Monday, December 17, 2001

Prison violated inmate policy

Hancock case might have been prevented

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Timothy Hancock's guilt was decided this month when a jury rejected his insanity plea and convicted him of strangling his cellmate at Warren Correctional Institution.

        But while a judge decides today whether Mr. Hancock should be put to death for killing child rapist Jason Wagner, a question that surfaced repeatedly at the trial remains unanswered: Does the prison bear any blame?

        Interviews, prison records and court testimony show the prison staff violated state policy by failing to perform a required check of Mr. Hancock's mental health file to determine whether he could be celled safely with another prisoner.

Lawyer weighs in

               In addition, statements from Mr. Hancock and other inmates indicate corrections officers disregarded threats from Mr. Hancock that he would harm Mr. Wagner.

        “Tim Hancock and Jason Wagner should have never been in (the) same cell together,” said Patrick Long, one of two lawyers who represented Mr. Hancock at trial.

        “It's not a defense to an aggravated murder. But I felt it was a good argument why he should not get the death penalty.”

        He contends that prison officials have “blood on their hands” because they did not review the mental health file on Mr. Hancock that indicated the psychotic convicted killer was a threat to Mr. Wagner.

Files weren't reviewed

               Mr. Hancock's prison mental health records, which were submitted as trial evidence, indicate that he was molested as a child, had an 11-year documented history of mental illness, and had made threats to kill another cellmate in the past.

        State corrections procedures suggest that child molesters should not be celled with victims of sexual abuse. However, a mentally ill inmate can be placed with another prisoner under certain circumstances, said Andrea Dean, spokeswoman for the

        Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

        Mr. Hancock said he tied up and killed Mr. Wagner on Nov. 13, 2000, after Mr. Wagner bragged about the 1999 abduction, rape and attempted murder of a 3-year-old Lancaster girl and made a sexual overture while the two played cards.

        WCI officials dispute they are responsible in Mr. Wagner's death, but Warden Anthony Brigano acknowledged that corrections staff did not check Mr. Hancock's mental health file.

        State corrections policy requires a corrections supervisor to review all the inmate's prison files, including mental health records, before the inmate can be double-celled in the segregation unit, which is used for discipline.

        “That did not happen. Those files weren't pulled,” he told the Enquirer in an interview last week.

        Capt. Dan Dane, who was responsible for conducting the review, told his supervisors after the killing that he had checked all other relevant files except Mr. Hancock's mental health record, Mr. Brigano said.

        Psychological records are considered confidential, but corrections staff are required to check with a prison mental health professional for a review of the file, he said.

        “It was reviewed over the next couple of days (after Mr. Wagner's death) by mental health staff, but they didn't see any mental health red flags,” Mr. Brigano said. “It would have come out the same way.”

        In addition, WCI policy requires the corrections supervisor to complete an in-house form confirming that the records reviews were completed. However, Capt. Dane did not complete the form on Mr. Hancock.

        Mr. Brigano defended the actions of his corrections staff on Nov. 13.

        “Regardless of what we do and don't do, I don't think it gives the inmate the OK to go ahead and kill someone else,” he said.

        An in-house investigator conducted an internal review of the staff's actions that night, and no disciplinary action was taken, Mr. Brigano said.

        However, 14 days after Mr. Wagner died, Mr. Brigano clarified the double-celling policy for segregated inmates in a staff memo and added another level of review as a precaution.

        The latest policy requires a count officer, whose job it is to keep tabs on all inmates in the facility, to make sure that the double-celling form is completed and that all records were reviewed.

        Prison officials said they celled Mr. Wagner with Mr. Hancock on Nov. 13 because there were no other cells available that day in the six-cell segregation unit. At the time, the prison was nearly double its capacity.

        Mr. Hancock had been in Cell 127 for several days after he committed a rules infraction by refusing to cell with another inmate in the general cell block of protective custody, Warden Brigano said.

        Mr. Wagner was sent to segregation the afternoon of Nov. 13 after he was caught making sexually explicit collect phone calls to the teen-aged daughter of a Dayton, Ohio, judge.

        By 2:30 p.m., Mr. Wagner and Mr. Hancock were sharing a cell. A short time later, Mr. Hancock asked to talk to a psychiatric nurse because he didn't want a cellmate and feared that Mr. Wagner might have AIDS. The nurse persuaded Mr. Hancock to remain in the cell with Mr. Wagner. By midnight, Mr. Wagner was dead.

        In court testimony, several corrections officers said neither inmate objected to the arrangement.

        However, in letters to the Enquirer before his trial and in statements he made to state troopers investigating the homicide, Mr. Hancock said he initially refused to take Mr. Wagner into his cell and threatened to harm him. Mr. Hancock said he later relented after guards threatened to douse him with pepper spray or Mace.

        Inmates in an adjoining protective custody cell block said they heard Mr. Hancock making threats.

        Warden Brigano disputed that inmates could have overheard anything because the two areas are separated by a Plexiglas wall.

        But Mr. Long said the Plexiglashas holes in it and the inmates he interviewed were adamant that they could hear through the wall.

        “Hancock told the CO's (corrections officers), if you put him in here with me, I'm going to kill him,” inmate Frank Robinson told Trooper L.T. McCormick two months after the killing.

        “They knew this, and put him in there anyway. ... I couldn't sleep all night because I had a bad feeling about it.”

        Inmate Todd Torok told the trooper that Mr. Wagner feared for his life and expressed concerns to a corrections supervisor.

        “I heard Wagner say, "I don't want to go in the cell with Hancock.' He said "Hancock is going to kill me,'” he told Trooper McCormick.


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